Calling it a beginning, Trump signs health care order

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump directed his administration Thursday to rewrite federal rules so consumers can have wider access to health insurance plans featuring lower premiums. He called his new executive order a “beginning” and promised more actions to come.

Frustrated by failures in Congress, Trump is moving to put his own stamp on health care. But even the limited steps the president outlined Thursday will take months for the federal bureaucracy to finalize in regulations. Experts said consumers should not expect immediate changes.

“With these actions, we are moving toward lower costs and more options in the health care market,” Trump said before he signed his directive in the Oval Office.

But the changes Trump hopes to bring about may not be finalized in time to affect coverage for 2019, let alone next year.

Trump said he will continue to pressure Congress to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare.”

One of the main ideas from the administration involves easing the way for groups and associations of employers to sponsor coverage that can be marketed across the land. That reflects Trump’s longstanding belief that interstate competition will lead to lower premiums for consumers who buy their own health insurance policies, as well as for small businesses.

Those “association health plans” could be shielded from some state and federal insurance requirements. But responding to concerns, the White House said participating employers could not exclude any workers from the plan, or charge more to those in poor health.

Other elements of the White House plan include:

• Easing current restrictions on short-term policies that last less than a year, an option for people making a life transition, from recent college graduates to early retirees. Those policies are not subject to current federal and state rules that require standard benefits and other consumer protections.

• Allowing employers to set aside pre-tax dollars so workers can use the money to buy an individual health policy.

“This executive order is the start of a long process as the gears of the federal bureaucracy churn, not the final word,” said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

It’s also unlikely to reverse the trend of insurers exiting state markets. About half of U.S. counties will have only one “Obamacare” insurer next year, although it appears that no counties will be left without a carrier as was initially feared. White House officials said over time, the policies flowing from the president’s order will give consumers more options.

Democrats are bracing for another effort by Trump to dismantle “Obamacare,” this time with the rule-making powers of the executive branch. Staffers at the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury have been working on the options since shortly after the president took office.

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